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  • Author: Steven A. Cook
  • Publication Date: 04-2014
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: Egypt is experiencing a deep economic crisis. The country's foreign currency r e serves are less than half of what they were before the January 2011 uprising, threatening Egypt's ability to pay for food and fuel. Egypt's budget deficit is 14 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) and its overall debt, which is the result of accumulated deficits, is more than the country's economic output. In this difficult economic climate, roughly 4 5 percent of Egyptians live on less than two dollars per day. Inflation, which reached as high as 12.97 percent after the July 2013 military coup, is currently at 11.4 percent. Tourism revenue—traditionally a primary source of foreign currency along with Suez Canal tolls and remittances from Egyptians working abroad—is less than half of what it was in the last full year before the uprising. Foreign direct investment has dried up outside the energy sector. Unemployment remains high at 13.4 percent. Among the unemployed, 71 percent are between fifteen and twenty-nine years old. This economic weakness makes it politically difficult to address the problems that contribute to a potential solvency crisis because the necessary reforms will impose hardship on a population that is already experiencing economic pain.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Economics, Regime Change, Financial Crisis
  • Political Geography: Arabia, North Africa, Egypt
  • Author: Fouad Ajami
  • Publication Date: 03-2012
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Foreign Affairs
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: Throughout 2011, a rhythmic chant echoed across the Arab lands: "The people want to topple the regime." It skipped borders with ease, carried in newspapers and magazines, on Twitter and Facebook, on the airwaves of al Jazeera and al Arabiya. Arab nationalism had been written off, but here, in full bloom, was what certainly looked like a pan-Arab awakening. Young people in search of political freedom and economic opportunity, weary of waking up to the same tedium day after day, rose up against their sclerotic masters.
  • Topic: Economics, Oil
  • Political Geography: America, Europe, Arabia
  • Author: Douglas A. Ollivant
  • Publication Date: 08-2012
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: Iraq remains a fragile state deeply traumatized and riven by thirty years of war, sanctions, occupation, and civil strife. Although there are numerous positive signs of progress in Iraq—violence has fallen to its lowest level since 2003, its economy is growing modestly, oil production recently surpassed that of Iran, and foreign investment is beginning to restore infrastructure decayed by years of war and sanctions—the risk of acute instability and renewed conflict remains. Already, in the wake of the U.S. military withdrawal in December 2011, Iraq has seen a fierce political struggle between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and many of his rivals in the Sunni-dominated Iraqiya parliamentary coalition, plus increasing tension with at least some segments of the Kurdish minority. For the positive trends to continue, Iraq will need to contain various threats to internal stability and weather regional turmoil that could worsen significantly in the coming months. The United States has a significant stake in helping Iraq overcome these challenges; Iraq is a critical state within a critical region.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Development, Oil, Fragile/Failed State, Sectarian violence
  • Political Geography: United States, Iraq, Middle East, Arabia
  • Author: Bruce K. Rutherford
  • Publication Date: 02-2011
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: As protests continued in Cairo, questions intensified about when and how President Hosni Mubarak would step aside and what kind of transitional government might replace him. The "key actor" at this time is Egypt's military leadership, which is concerned about growing violence, economic damage, and continued instability, says Bruce K. Rutherford, author of Egypt After Mubarak: Liberalism, Islam, and Democracy in the Arab World. "If they want these demonstrations to end, they can either intervene and use force to disperse the demonstrators or they can ask President Mubarak to leave," he says, which would indicate the army's belief that Mubarak's continued presence is destabilizing. Rutherford says the opposition has organized a ten-person leadership group headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, but that Egyptians are skeptical about the government's offer to open discussions with the opposition because in the past, such dialogues haven't led to any change. He says a possible successor to Mubarak may be former foreign minister Amr Moussa, currently head of the Arab League.
  • Topic: Security, Civil Society, Democratization, Insurgency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Arabia, Egypt
  • Author: F. Gregory Gause III
  • Publication Date: 12-2011
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: There is arguably no more unlikely U.S. ally than Saudi Arabia: monarchical, deeply conservative socially, promoter of an austere and intolerant version of Islam, birthplace of Osama bin Laden and fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers. Consequently, there is no U.S. ally less well understood. Many U.S. policymakers assume that the Saudi regime is fragile, despite its remarkable record of domestic stability in the turbulent Middle East. “It is an unstable country in an unstable region,” one congressional staffer said in July 2011. Yet it is the Arab country least affected in its domestic politics by the Arab upheavals of 2011. Many who think it is unstable domestically also paradoxically attribute enormous power to it, to the extent that they depict it as leading a “counterrevolution” against those upheavals throughout the region. 2 One wonders just how “counterrevolutionary” the Saudis are when they have supported the NATO campaign against Muammar al-Qaddafi, successfully negotiated the transfer of power from Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, and condemned the crackdown on protestors by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and how powerful they are when they could do little to help their ally Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Economics, International Trade and Finance, Islam, Oil, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: United States, Middle East, Arabia, Saudi Arabia
  • Author: Lisa Anderson
  • Publication Date: 05-2011
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Foreign Affairs
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: In Tunisia, protesters escalated calls for the restoration of the country's suspended constitution. Meanwhile, Egyptians rose in revolt as strikes across the country brought daily life to a halt and toppled the government. In Libya, provincial leaders worked feverishly to strengthen their newly independent republic. It was 1919. That year's events demonstrate that the global diffusion of information and expectations -- so vividly on display in Tahrir Square this past winter -- is not a result of the Internet and social media. The inspirational rhetoric of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points speech, which helped spark the 1919 upheavals, made its way around the world by telegraph. The uprisings of 1919 also suggest that the calculated spread of popular movements, seen across the Arab world last winter, is not a new phenomenon. The Egyptian Facebook campaigners are the modern incarnation of Arab nationalist networks whose broadsheets disseminated strategies for civil disobedience throughout the region in the years after World War I. The important story about the 2011 Arab revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya is not how the globalization of the norms of civic engagement shaped the protesters' aspirations. Nor is it about how activists used technology to share ideas and tactics. Instead, the critical issue is how and why these ambitions and techniques resonated in their various local contexts. The patterns and demographics of the protests varied widely. The demonstrations in Tunisia spiraled toward the capital from the neglected rural areas, finding common cause with a once powerful but much repressed labor movement. In Egypt, by contrast, urbane and cosmopolitan young people in the major cities organized the uprisings. Meanwhile, in Libya, ragtag bands of armed rebels in the eastern provinces ignited the protests, revealing the tribal and regional cleavages that have beset the country for decades. Although they shared a common call for personal dignity and responsive government, the revolutions across these three countries reflected divergent economic grievances and social dynamics -- legacies of their diverse encounters with modern Europe and decades under unique regimes.
  • Topic: Government
  • Political Geography: United States, Libya, Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia
  • Author: Daniel Byman
  • Publication Date: 05-2011
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Foreign Affairs
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: On December 17, Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set himself on fire to protest police harassment. His death incited unrest throughout Tunisia; less than a month later, protests toppled Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Egypt, the most populous and influential country in the Arab world, soon followed suit. Al Qaeda met both these dramatic events with near silence. Only in mid-February did Osama bin Laden's Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, officer comments. But even then, he did not directly address the revolutions or explain how jihadists should respond. Instead, he claimed that the Tunisian revolution occurred "against the agent of America and France," gamely trying to transform Tunisians' fight against corruption and repression into a victory for anti-Western jihadists. On Egypt, Zawahiri offered a rambling history lesson, ranging from Napoleon to the tyranny of the Mubarak government. He released his statement on Egypt on February 18, a week after Hosni Mubarak resigned, and offered little guidance to potential followers on how they should view the revolution or react to it. U.S. politicians are moving quickly to claim the revolutions and al Qaeda's muted response as victories in the struggle against terrorism. "This revolution is a repudiation of al Qaeda," declared Senator John McCain during a visit to Cairo on February 27. And indeed, looking out from bin Laden's cave, the Arab world looks less promising than it did only a few months ago. Although bin Laden and al Qaeda have been attempting to overthrow Arab governments for more than 20 years, the toppling of the seemingly solid dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt caught them flat-footed and undermined their message of violent jihad. Nevertheless, al Qaeda and its allies could ultimately benefit from the unrest. For now, al Qaeda has greater operational freedom of action, and bin Laden and his allies will seek to exploit any further unrest in the months and years to come.
  • Topic: Terrorism
  • Political Geography: United States, Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia
  • Author: F. Gregory Gause III
  • Publication Date: 07-2011
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Foreign Affairs
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: The vast majority of academic specialists on the Arab world were as surprised as everyone else by the upheavals that toppled two Arab leaders last winter and that now threaten several others. It was clear that Arab regimes were deeply unpopular and faced serious demographic, economic, and political problems. Yet many academics focused on explaining what they saw as the most interesting and anomalous aspect of Arab politics: the persistence of undemocratic rulers. Until this year, the Arab world boasted a long list of such leaders. Muammar al-Qaddafi took charge of Libya in 1969; the Assad family has ruled Syria since 1970; Ali Abdullah Saleh became president of North Yemen (later united with South Yemen) in 1978; Hosni Mubarak took charge of Egypt in 1981; and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali ascended to Tunisia's presidency in 1987. The monarchies enjoyed even longer pedigrees, with the Hashemites running Jordan since its creation in 1920, the al-Saud family ruling a unified Saudi Arabia since 1932, and the Alaouite dynasty in Morocco first coming to power in the seventeenth century. These regimes survived over a period of decades in which democratic waves rolled through East Asia, eastern Europe, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa. Even the Arab countries' neighbors in the Muslim Middle East (Iran and Turkey) experienced enormous political change in that period, with a revolution and three subsequent decades of political struggle in Iran and a quasi-Islamist party building a more open and democratic system in secular Turkey.
  • Political Geography: America, Europe, Turkey, Middle East, Arabia
  • Author: Dalia Dassa Kaye, Frederic M. Wehrey, Michael Scott Doran
  • Publication Date: 07-2011
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Foreign Affairs
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: READING THE NEW MIDDLE EAST MAP Dalia Dassa Kaye and Frederic Wehrey With long-standing U.S. allies toppled or under pressure from unprecedented dissent across the Arab world, Michael Doran, in "The Heirs of Nasser" (May/June 2011), warns that Iran is poised to walk away from the Arab Spring a winner. In his view, the chaotic Arab political scene will allow Iran and its radical allies -- Hamas, Hezbollah, and Syria -- to stoke public frustration over unmet expectations or engage in subversive provocations, thereby embroiling new regimes in the region's old conflicts. In previous periods of regional upheaval, revolutionaries such as Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser employed this strategy at the expense of U.S. and Western interests. Nasser played the Israel card to goad his Western-backed rivals into war, while exhorting their publics to rebel. Why, Doran argues, should one expect any less from Iran and its allies today? Certainly, the regional shakeup will give Iran and its allies much to prey on. The Arab world's secular, liberal youth movements, often hobbled by a lack of organization and leadership, will compete with long-established parties with starkly different views of the future, be they remnants of the old regimes or Islamist forces. The region's new governments will confront economic challenges that will limit their ability to meet the expectations of a youthful and increasingly impatient public. Meanwhile, the continued Israeli-Palestinian stalemate offers further ammunition for rejectionist forces to reinvigorate the region's tired scapegoats, redirecting the conversation away from talk about the failure of domestic governance. The United States' inconsistent policies toward the Arab revolts (for example, the varying U.S. responses to Bahrain and Libya) offer more fodder for Iran's resistance narrative. Still, although Iran and its allies will attempt to seize on these vulnerabilities to widen the gap between ruler and ruled, they are unlikely to achieve the success of Nasser. In fact, the political upheaval in the Arab world has led to at least three fundamental shifts in the regional order that have only sharpened the preexisting limitations of Iranian influence.
  • Political Geography: United States, Israel, Palestine, Arabia
  • Author: William McCants
  • Publication Date: 09-2011
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Foreign Affairs
  • Institution: Council on Foreign Relations
  • Abstract: On 9/11, the global jihadist movement burst into the world's consciousness, but a decade later, thanks in part to the Arab Spring and the killing of Osama bin Laden, it is in crisis. With Western-backed dictators falling, al Qaeda might seem closer than ever to its goal of building Islamic states. But the revolutions have empowered the group's chief rivals instead: Islamist parliamentarians, who are willing to use ballots, not bombs.
  • Topic: Cold War, Islam
  • Political Geography: United States, Soviet Union, Arabia, Egypt